Tattersall Golf Club: Rees Jones sculpts a stunner

By Ron Romanik, Contributor

WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- Tattersall Golf Club opened in August of 2000 to much fanfare on account of course architect Rees Jones' reputation, the dramatic and expansive site, and the impeccably groomed bentgrass fairways and greens. Indeed, the course is at once dramatic and playable, and the soft carpet fairways and consistent and true greens are nothing but icing on the cake.

A number of factors may suggest to you that you're in for a unique experience at Tattersall even before you tee it up. Some of these factors will ring true on the course, while one or two will turn out to be much ado about nothing. Either way, do not be surprised if you feel a bit intimidated as you step on the first tee.

Whether it's the mysterious name or the dramatic elevation drops you've heard about, or the Rees Jones mystique, or the 300-year-old converted clubhouse, you sense something different is afoot at Tattersall. Even the practice putting green gives you pause, as it presents many more treacherous putts than you'll find on the course. During play, the green slope severity may deceive you once or twice, but there's never a spot on any green where you feel a three-putt is inevitable.

However, combine 54 bunkers - some very, very deep - with three ponds, the Broad Run Creek, natural wetlands, and some severe drop-offs, and it can feel a little like a tightrope walk at times. As exotic as the course will appear from each tee box, truth be told, there are many generous fairways.

When all is said and done, Tattersall is fair and challenging, scenic and exciting. From the middle tees, it's not going to beat you up at 6,396 yards (70.6/129). But from the back tees, at 6,826 (72.0/132), more than a few of the par 4s will definitely prove daunting. Often well-struck drives will die on uphill landing areas, leaving you with long-iron approaches into the two-shotters.

From time to time, you might feel like your playing your own private course, as few of the holes play side by side. If you're looking to be completely immersed in an elevated golf experience, you may be tantalized by the Tattersall course.

The beauty of the golf course is evident right from the start. The first hole starts off very promising, a par 5 with a pronounced, sweeping rise to a shelf green, defended front and left with a severe drop-off and deep bunkers. The first invites a big blast down the left side and then a conservative second aimed to the right of the green.

The second hole also has a very prettily framed approach shot, with a drop-off behind the green. From the second tee, heed the signs and lay up in front of the cavernous ravine. When sizing up your approach shot, you may believe the second green is teetering over the end of the Earth.

Sure, you'll remember nice views, eye-catching sculpting of the earth, and immaculate, puttable greens. But you'll also remember mounds, groups of mounds, deep bunkers, deeper bunkers, severe drop-offs, and dizzying vistas. There's no doubt, Tattersall is a striking course to view, where your driver tee shots are as tantalizingly framed as your approach shots.

You'll often step onto the tee and see a bank on one side of the fairway and, on the other side, a severe slope that may send your ball off into oblivion. Favor the banked side as a rule, and you'll avoid some big numbers. There are also banks behind and beside some greens. Though they appear to be steep enough to bounce off and down to the green, don't count on it.

On occasion at Tattersall, you'll have the sensation of a yo-yo going up and down -- and up and down, and up and down -- the 130 feet of elevation change around the property. No later than the fourth hole will this effect hit you square on. The par-4 fourth drops precipitously from the tee only to rise again to nearly tee elevation at the green.

The sixth hole has just about everything -- sloped fairway, sloped green, and one of the deepest greenside bunkers you'll find anywhere. A solid drive up the middle to the raised, semi-blind fairway will leave you a mid-iron shot downhill to a deceivingly flattish-looking green. If you favor the left side of the fairway off the tee, you might get a lucky roll down a slope to the 100-yard range.

The 16th hole takes you to the highest point in Chester County, peaking at the 16th green. From the tee you can look back at the second and third holes on the opposite hill that looks about a mile away, floating a hundred feet above the valley floor, and pause to reconsider the shots you gave away unnecessarily during the day.

If wind follows you to the 17th tee, as it well may, picking the right club to hit is nearly impossible. Signs by the tees warn of elevation drops of 102 to 116 feet. Another sign as you depart the 18th politely thanks you for playing Tattersall. How you play the last two holes will determine whether you find that sign endearing or gratuitous. On the 17th, the conservative play is to bail out short and right, but the chip there is no bargain either, and bogey is a respectable score.

Tattersall has pity on your weary soul at the 18th, and concedes a birdie opportunity in the form of a solid par 5 with a lake guarding the right side lay-up and approach. Favor the left side all the way, and you'll have little to worry about.

Tattersall's designer, "U.S. Open doctor" Rees Jones, spends much of his time championing the cause of environment-friendly golf courses. Jones likes a large canvas to work his magic, and Tattersall covers a lot of ground. With 372 acres on which to roam and route his course, Jones used all the prime spots for the golf holes - not the future home sites.

After playing Tattersall, you may think Rees Jones is more of a witch doctor than an Open doctor. Jones is a depth-perception illusionist who, over the 18 holes in a round, gradually erodes your faith in your own eyes. Jones took the significant elevation changes he found on this exceptional site and sprinkled a healthy dose of his magic over it. He enhanced the contours of the land with devilish fairway angles, perplexing mounds and banks, and innocent-looking-but-elusive greens.

The property was the former estate of one John Beale Bordley, a Renaissance man of sorts - lawyer, judge, agricultural researcher, and member of the American Philosophical Society. The Bordley House, a historical landmark dating back to 1702, is now the clubhouse and grille, and an attractive centerpiece for the property. An outdoor flagstone terrace complete with lanterns and wrought iron railing accent the visual impact.

The Bordley House Grille offers a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Serving an "eclectic American regional" menu, the dining public has already anointed their favorites. The crab and corn bisque served in a hollowed out bread boule was an instant hit. Also exceptional are the certified Black Angus filet mignon and New York strip, both dry-aged and tender enough to cut with a fork.

Off Course

A fun tour is the QVC Studio Park in West Chester, where you can peak in on live home-shopping network broadcasts. Also enticing are the fantastic Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, and historic Dilworthtown Inn outside West Chester.

longwoodgardens.org (610) 388-1000
dilworthtowninn.com (611) 399-1390

The Verdict

Tattersall is a wild ride that will hold your attention every step of the way. The dramatic elevation changes often give you pause, and the whole experience is engrossing. Though surely not everyone's cup of tea, as the course sometimes borders on overwhelming, Tattersall's service and course conditioning are above reproach.

Stay and Play

Inn at Chester Springs, Exton
Desmond Valley Forge
Wyndham Valley Forge

Dining Out

The Bordley House Grille at Tattersall
Eclectic American Regional (610) 738-6916

Fast Fact

"Tattersall" is a plaid-type pattern of color crossbars on a light background once common in England. A busy London horse market became known as "Tattersall's," as the patterns were so popular on horse blankets at the market.

Ron Romanik, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Cart Path Happy

    Neil P wrote on: Jul 9, 2009

    3rd time in a row that I went there where cartpath rule was in effect for no reason. They do not say anything until you hit your shots and get in your cart. Never going again.


    • RE: Cart Path Happy

      JVigi wrote on: Jul 26, 2012

      perusing sites for area entertainment and sports, I came upon your comment -
      and thought to bypass (2009).
      could not pass up the opportunity to say 'visit Whitford CC in Exton!' I have become familiar with it's qualities while working on a few projects for Whitford. It is truly a gem in all respects. Speaking of respect....the members and guests are treated like royalty always.
      Cuisine - 5 Star even at Mulligan's Pub or Aquatics events - 4 chefs w/grilling, salad, seafood stations - all for each swim meet! Members' Events - Dance until Dawn w/Philly Sound! Racquets and Golf Outings -
      especially the 3day whitford classic.
      You really must visit for a day! Hope you do! Look forward to a very nice friendly cart path!
      Justine Vigilante
      Whitford Country Club
      Ron Rottmann
      General Manager